Zephaniah was one of the last pre-exile prophets. He was among those that issued the final warnings and calls to repentance. He prophesied alongside Jeremiah who continued his ministry into the period of exile. Zephaniah was the great, great grandson of King Hezekiah. It was Hezekiah who stood at the wall as Assyria came calling at the wall of Jerusalem. While God preserved Jerusalem, and sent the Assyrians packing, the southern Kingdom of Judah was oppressed by Assyria for some time.
Hezekiah's son, Manasseh, succeeded him. He reigned longer than any other king and was more more wicked than any other king. He began his reign at 12 years old and for 55 years undid every good thing his father did. If Hezekiah was known for his reforms, restoration of Passover and temple worship; then his son Manasseh was known for defiling the people, the land and his father's reputation. He practiced all kinds of wickedness and idolatry; leading the nation to apostasy. It was during this spiritually dark time that Zephaniah was born.
As the nation continued to unravel and rush headlong to judgment in the face of the repeated warnings of multiple prophets, Manasseh's son Amon took the throne. He was 22 years old and forsook the Lord worshiping idols and serving them. Amon saw his father Manasseh humble himself to the Lord after he was carried off to Babylon by the Assyrians with a hook and in fetters. The Chronicler tells us that "Amon trespassed more and more". Amon only reigned 2 years when he was killed by his servants.
Josiah, son of Amon, began his reign as an eight-year-old (640-609BC). He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord. It is likely that Zephaniah was one of the guiding influences in this young kings life. He purged the land of wickedness. He broke down the altars and the images and carvings were destroyed. It was in the eighteenth year of his reign when, during the restoration of the temple, the book of the law was discovered. The law was read to king Josiah; he responded by tearing his clothes. As a mere 26-year-old, this young king discovered that the wrath of God abided on him and on the nation. He sent men to inquire of the Lord and the answer came back:
"Thus says the Lord: 'Behold, I will bring calamity on this place and on its inhabitants, all the curses that are written in the book which they have read before the king of Judah, 25 because they have forsaken Me and burned incense to other gods, that they might provoke Me to anger with all the works of their hands. Therefore My wrath will be poured out on this place, and not be quenched.' "
Then a personal message directly to the king from the Lord:
"Concerning the words which you have heard—27 because your heart was tender, and you humbled yourself before God when you heard His words against this place and against its inhabitants, and you humbled yourself before Me, and you tore your clothes and wept before Me, I also have heard you," says the Lord. 28 "Surely I will gather you to your fathers, and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace; and your eyes shall not see all the calamity which I will bring on this place and its inhabitants."
Josiah continued his reforms in the land until his death. It was 25 years after his death that God's judgment fell on Judah when the Babylonians conquered them and carried them ino exile.
During the heart of Josiah's reign, the prophet Zephaniah was active in his prophetic ministry. He was a prophet, but different from others because he was a prophet with royal blood. This gave him access to the king. There's no way of knowing just how influential he was to the king but there is no mistaking that his message was powerful and heard. His message will still be heard today. But hearing requires an answer and action; complacent Israel failed to act and found themselves to be the victim of Babylon.
A flood, sacrifce and a battle to the complacent.
Zephaniah doesn't spend a lot of time on introduction; it didn't matter who he was or where he came from. What mattered most was that he spoke the Word of the Lord. His message is radical and harsh sounding to a nation that had been so complacent for so long they thought they were beyond judgment. The word 'consume' means to sweep away; this to a people who assumed that because God would not flood the land again that He would not judge them. God called for total destruction of every creature; doing so in the reverse order of creation. Man was the first to go, then the beast, birds, and fish.
The 'stumbling blocks' would be consumed. The Hebrew word means "heap of ruins" by way of the habitation and institutions of men; their buildings, government, etc. It's a fascinating translation to stumbling block where they are thought of as 'those who know the Lord and put something betwen people and the Lord'. They trip people up in the relationship with God. While it probably wasn't the intention of the translator, it is a useful view of the institutions of man that became their god.
The Hebrew word for 'man' in both places of verse three is Adam. This points back to the creation and means human kind in general. All mankind would be wiped away.
Jerusalem, the city of peace, will not know peace when the Lord stretches His hand out in judgment. The city that was suppposed to be the center of Jewish worship had become idolatry central. The idols, their priests, as well as those who worship idols will be destroyed. They openly worshiped the fertility gods on the housetops. Then they worshiped and swore oaths to the Lord. They were double-minded; unfaithful, rebellious and wicked.
The command to be silent is an attention getting, "Hush!" It was the announcement of the priest prior to a sacrifice. The Day of the Lord had come; the Lord was preparing a sacrifice. There were many 'religious' folks of that day who longed to sup with the Lord on that day. They looked to this coming day as a day of lightness and joy. But this sacrifice wasn't for them. This sacrifice was for the Babylonians. The Jews weren't to come to the sacrifice, they were the sacrifcie.
On that day punishment would come to the upper echelon of society. These were the leaders and government officials. Those who wore foreign apparel were likely those who had sold out to the Assyrians and thrown aside their identity as Jews. Those who leap over the threshhold were the worshipers of pagan gods. They believed evil spirits resided at the threshhold; if someone stepped on it they were allowed in. This was seen in 1 Sam 4:4-5 with Dagon. These people were characterized by their violence and deceit.
Sorrow would fill the city from the mournful cry, the wailing and crashing. It was the sound of Babylonians invading the city form the North, entering by way of the Fish Gate, the Second Quarter and Maktsh. The market place that was normally bustling with people regardless of what was going on would also be silenced. No one would find solace in shopping; this too would be struck down.
No one could hide. The Lord promises to search out the complacent. They were content with their lives finding no need for the Lord. They were self-secure and quite happy with the life they led. The phrase "settled in Complacency" means "complacent dregs". It's a term from wine-making. If a wine is allowed to sit too long before pouring off the dregs, it becomes settledd and runied. It's the picture of those who have had it so good for so long they've forgotten where their prosperity came from. They've begun to think they were the ones who brought about prosperity and wealth by their own hand.
These folks had begun to think that the Lord would not intervene for good or bad. All the blessings and prosperity they attested to the work of their hands, their planning and wisdom would all come to nothing for them. Instead it would become booty to the Babylonians.
Listen as the great Day of the Lord draws near. It's not far off and stagnant on the horizon, it is rushing toward us quickly. As it approaches hear the bitter noise; judgmen was a bitter pill to a complacent people. It was a bitter truth to swallow. What were they crying? Were they asking how? Why? How could God let this happen, why God was being mean? Would they ask what they had done to deserve this? It was probably all that and more.
Verses fifteen and sixteen form a six descriptons of 7 syllable saysings each starting with the word yom. It is a poetic and visual snapshot of the look and feel of the Day of the Lord. The words stir emotions and feelings, striking fear in those who have trusted in their own ability to control their lives. This describles an unctronlled chaos and destruction that would devistate them and drive them from the comlacement homes to a land far away. Men would be distressed and grope about like blind men searching for soemthing firm to hold on to. These men would fall their blood poured out in sacrifce and their flesh fertilizing the field.
All their silver, all their gold couldn't deliver them. Their liberty wasn't for sale, they had been sold into slavery. This happened by their own hand, over time, as they turned from God a little each day. Their complacency started with little compromise. A little here, a little there, until they had not time for God. They were too busy enjoying all their many blessings; spending their money, enjoying their hobbies, celebrating the fruits of their labor. They arrived at the day when they no longer gave God thanks or glory but patted themselves on the back for how well they had done in their life.
God's wrath was coming. They would be devoured as a sacrifice by the fire of His jealousy. He is a jealous God towards His people, called by His name. He would go to great lengths on their behalf. But when they finally turned completely away and stole all His glory either for themselves or glorified other gods, His jealously would devour them in the fire of judgment.
Which is a bigger problem in the world today, ignorance or apath? The reply from a complacent world is, "I don't know and I don't care."
We should begin chapter two with a 'therefore' mindset; since we know of this coming day, how might that cause us to respond? The command to this nation with no shame was to gather themselves. They were worthless stubble to be gathered and burned on that great coming day. But if they were gathered together in repentance they might be saved from the fire.
I suspect that day will be filled with mourning and cries:
"If we just had more time!"
"If only we had a warning!"
God, by the mouth of Zephaniah, is trying to shake them from their complacency that they might know the time is short. This was in fact their warning. The call to seek the Lord was a call to have an earnest encounter with Him. Many were playing the game; many were very religious, going the motions of sacrifice, celebrating feasts. We would liken this to taking part in Christmas, Easter and going to church once in a while. The mere action of these things is not 'seeking' Him. The earnest encounter is to put Him and all His ways before us to guide our every thought, word and deed. To meet Him in worship, to encounter Him in prayer, to hear Him in His word.
It seems the call to seek was only to the meek; all others need not apply! To seek and find, one must first be humbled. This humbling starts with an understanding of the requirements of the Almighty and just how far from meeting those requirements we are. All have sinned and fallen short; therefore they sought mercy, a way to righteousness, humility before God. In doing so, they found they might be hidden in him on that day that is coming.
On this side of the cross, we seek God by way of Jesus Christ. The grace has been offered; but, just like Zephanah's day, only the meek need to seek. All others need not apply! The proud, the haughty, the idolater, rebellious, thief, adulterer would all meet God's wrath.
6 And He said to me, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. 7 He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son. 8 But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death." (Rev 21:6-8)
What a great comfort that a Christian might have the security of knowing they are hidden in Christ. Do you have that security? Is your life characterized by humility, obedience and an earnest seeeking of the Lord?
The kindness of the Lord should lead us to repentance, not complacency. The Lord warned Israel of a flood, a sacrifce and a battle to shake them awake; to move them from complacency to repentance and seeking the Lord. Let us have an ear to hear those same warnings, to take action and be moved. Let us gather ourselves in repentance and faith; in meekness and obedience, as the body of Christ seeking Jesus and having the comfort of being hidden in Him.
20 Come, my people, enter your chambers,
And shut your doors behind you;
Hide yourself, as it were, for a little moment,
Until the indignation is past.
21 For behold, the Lord comes out of His place
To punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity;
The earth will also disclose her blood,
And will no more cover her slain. (Isaiah 26:20)
Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. 2 In My Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. 4 And where I go you know, and the way you know." (John 14:1-2)
Judgement is declared on the nations. These nations were those that surrounded Israel. This Day of the Lord has a near prophecy for Israel in that day as the Lord was bringing Babylon as a tool of judgment. However, there was also a far prophecy in the final day. The nations surrounding Israel were in play in that day and it seems they will be a factor in the final days. Four of the five major cities of the Philistines are mentioned. It may be the fifth, Gath, had already been destroyed. The Cherethites are title related to Crete, from which the Philistines came. The destruction moves from city to city moving closer to Jerusalem with every stop.
We then get a picture of the coast after the destruction. It is one of peaceful pastures, where the shepherd can feed and care for the flock. God will shepherd the remnant of His people there.
Moab and Ammon were east of the Jordan. They were a constant enemy of Israel, a reproach to God's children. They thought they had gotten away with their insults and threats to Israel, but God kept the books and the day of reckoning had come. They would become like Sodom and Gomorrah; desolate and lifeless. God will give the land and what is left of it to His remnant.
Verse eleven brings to mind the idea that 'every knee shall bow' in that day. The will be 'awesome'; inspiring awe to the most unbelieving pagan of the nations. All the other gods will be forgotten, reduced to nothing. All the earth will sing His praises, each from their home.
The judgment looks south to the Ethiopians, maybe also include the Egyptians, who will fall by the sword. Then judgment looks north to Assyria which will be destroyed with its captial Nineveh. The devistation will be so great that it will become a pastureland. This once great place, with all its magnificent structures and buildings, will only serve as dens for animals and places for the birds to nest. The sounds of commerce are silenced and replaced with the lonely song of the birds.
The arrogant boast of the once great city is silenced. Man's greatest achievements are as nothing in the path of the wrath of God.
Jerusalem means 'city of peace' but it will be far from that. It was the center of worship for God Most High, a place where people met God and worshiped Him and where God ministered to the people. But the people had lost their way. Their prosperity and blessing and delivered them to complacency. They began to believe they didn't need or have time for God; life was good and tomorrow would be just like today. This was done in the face of the constant warning coming from the prophets.
The judgment starts with the ruling class, the govenors, princes; the priests and the prophets. They were characterized by their treachery and violence. Instead of the sanctuary standing as a light and hope to cleanse and deliver a people from sin; it had become polluted itself. The priests had not done their job and keeping it for the Lord. In the face of these unrighteous leaders, the Lord will rise up in righteousness. He will bring justice; one that never fails.
God's dealing with the nations should have been a warning to Jerusalem. They knew He had the power to 'cut off' they just never thought it would be used on them. They had created a god of their own understanding, one that would allow them to live however they chose all the while receiving the blessings that came from God Most High. In time they came to believe their blessings came by their own hand and credited other gods pushing the Lord out completely. This should sound very familiar to us.
Therefore – the judgment is established – how must the faithful respond? There is a call to wait. But this isn't a call to stand by idly but to live a life of faithfulness and obedience, knowing that day is coming. It's a life unmarked by complacency, never forgetting our maker and the blessings and their source. We live meek while we seek knwing he will:
Gather the nations
Pour out His indignation
The earth will be devoured
By a jealous fire the earth will be destroyed. Then, God will restor from this cleansing fire. He will bring a people, pure in language. This probably to be understand as the purity of life and not just a language itself. There will be a unity among the nations and common worship as they call on the Lord together. Israel will be inhabited by a meek and humble people. It will be a time of peace as the Lord is the shepherd and the people the flock in His pasture. There will be no unrighteousness nor will anyone bring fear on this remnant.
The disaster has passed, judgment is over, her enemies are no more. The Lord now rules in their midst. It is a time of singing, shouting and rejoicing. In her midst, Jerusalem will live:
With salvation at hand
In the comfort of His love
In His rejoicing over them
He will gather
He will deliver
He will heal
Remove burden of reproach
Remove those who afflict
God will gather His people and appoint to them fame and praise. What a day that will be!
©2017 Doug Ford
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